Questions for Reflection (S.2, Ep.6)

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About this episode

For our final episode of Season 2, we asked two of our guests from the past year to share one of their favorite year-end reflection questions and their response to that question with all of us.

Ziva Mann, who worked with us on the episode, “How Networks Can Reduce Stress,” and Sherrill Knezel, who joined us for the episode, “Warm Collaboration,” both shared their reflections. for this episode. You’ll hear reflections on 2021 from both of the podcast’s hosts as well.

Happy New Year!

Transcript

[music]

Kalin Goble: Welcome to Practicing Connection in a Complex World, a podcast exploring the personal stories and collective practices that empower us to work together to help each other, our families, and our communities improve our resilience and readiness in a rapidly changing world. To start our conversation, here are Jessica Beckendorf and Bob Bertsch.

Bob Bertsch: Hi, and welcome to the Practicing Connection in a Complex World podcast. So great to have you along. For this episode, as Jessica and I transition into a new year, which is coming soon and a new season of the podcast, and we wanted to use this episode to take some time for reflection. Maybe a little bit on what we’ve done in the past season with the podcast, but also with ourselves personally. Because I think as we’ve talked about actually in our last two episodes, the two-parter, about knowing ourselves, how important taking that time for reflection is.

Thinking back on how things have gone in the past year, what we could have learned from it, what we have learned from it, and to help us move forward. I know Jessica, as we talked about in the previous episodes, you’ve done so much work on that. I know that reflection is an important part of the work you’ve been doing, but also your personal practice as well.

Jessica Beckendorf: Yes, reflection Is an important part. It’s like two-thirds of connection because, as we say in the relational networking program that we’ve talked about in past episodes, it starts with knowing yourself. Of course, reflection is very important to knowing ourselves and it, I guess ends. Ends is not really the best word here because connection and reflection don’t end, but it ends with reflection of conversations that you’ve had, the interactions you’ve had with other people, the learning that you’ve had that has occurred.

The third part of connection, it’s starting with knowing yourself.

The second part of connection is actually interacting with people. Then the third part of connection goes right back to reflection and knowing yourself, but also thinking about how you’ve changed, and what you’ve learned, and how that changes what you know about yourself if it does at all, or what it changes about what you know about yourself. Having realizations through hearing other people’s perspectives is really important. We thought it would be a really good idea for us to have some of our guests from this year share their favorite reflection question with us.

Because getting more perspectives and more ideas in the mix is super important to connection. We’re going to hear from two of our podcast guests from the past year, and then Bob and I will finish up with a couple of reflection questions of our own. We’ll hear first from Ziva Mann. Ziva is the Director of Assessment and Development at Ascent Leadership Networks, where she assesses leaders and helps them and their organizations develop in the ways that matter most. Ziva and her colleague, Naava Frank, joined us on the podcast earlier this year to talk about how networks can help reduce stress.

Ziva Mann: Hi. I’m Ziva Mann, and I’m the Director of Assessment and Development here at Ascent Leadership Networks, which means that I assess leaders and organizations, and together, our team here helps them grow in the ways that matter most. I’m talking to you today because Jessica and Bob asked if I’d share my favorite end-of-the-year reflection. This comes to me from a role that I had when I was carving out space for a growing group of volunteers. This was in healthcare, so, an incredibly hierarchical organization that had also a community-oriented mission.

It was intense, it was hard. I loved it, and occasionally also wanted to hide under the bed, but mostly I loved it. There was this one person there, Tasha, who was always smiling no matter what was going on around her. She was always calm and capable, and I just wanted to soak some of that up. She had this sign on her door, and it said, “Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” It’s a quote from Arthur Ashe, this extraordinary tennis player. That, and the memory of Tasha has stayed with me. Now, it’s become my favorite end-of-the-year reflection so now I’m sharing it with you.

When I think about the people who’ve used it, it’s really come to remind me that whether I’m doing what’s possible, what I can, or I’m redefining what’s possible, what I did unless I could do, how I approach it matters. Let’s start with Part 1. I do this in three parts. Start where you are. I love that this starts by grounding me. Literally, where am I? What does this space hold for me? What’s under my feet? Let’s see. I’m in my dining room. My feet are on this little soft squishy footrest that I bought this year online. Actually, that reminds me that I’m finding comfort in this space that I’ve rigged up to work in.

I’m looking around, there’s photos of my family here. Oh, there’s a really beautiful picture on my left of my grandmother who has grace and resilience. Let’s just say it’s something I aspire to. I’ve got files on the table, which reminds me of work I’ve done this year. Work that I’m proud of, clients we’ve helped, like individuals. Structural changes we helped them make. Things that will make them and their organization stronger and more resilient, more inclusive, better for the people who work there. It’s not all been work-focused. Outwards, over there, there’s my Ascent ascending notebook, which reminds me that I’ve also spent the year strengthening myself, my own capacity.

Through my window, I can see my garden. That is a garden I’ve been literally building, hauling salvage stone, and brick, and compost, and carving it out of the hills here. It’s where I go to use my hands and free my brain up to think. Where I am? This feels like a place I can build from. Part 2, use what you have. What do I have? Oh my gosh. I’m incredibly lucky. I’ve got teamwork, I’ve got skills, I’ve got relationships. I’ve got family, I’ve got this network of friends and colleagues that I value hugely. We could support each other. Someone reaches out, we give what we can when we can.

Looking around the room here, it would be awfully nice to have my own workspace. You do not have to set up and put my things away. I work at our dinner table, but I do like that my work is done with awareness of our family’s patterns. Our needs through this shared space of our home. There’s a pleasure to traveling light as it were. No, I don’t have a filing cabinet. I don’t have a desk, but it requires me to have what I need to be prepared, be flexible. Doesn’t always come naturally to me, but I’m working on it. Part 3, do what you can. Feel like that’s the question I’ve just spent the past two years asking myself.

Actually, taking stock about where am I in the moments? Like balancing mental and physical health against work and family, and oh my God, the chaos of the pandemic, and the world around us. Deciding what I can do feels to me more like a moment-to-moment question right now. It’s become almost like a pulse check for me. Let’s just reframe that a little bit. How about, right now, what do I want to do with all of this? Actually, I don’t know [laughs] yet. I don’t know yet. Oh, this has been a year of insane growth for me. I’ve learned a lot.

I’ve started to trust myself and respect my own capacity in new ways, new levels. I’ve met new people who are stretching me, giving me new ideas, ways to think and work, and new challenges to work on. Mostly, I think I just want to keep going. My only hope is that where I am, this space, this moment, this field of work, will make that possible. Yes, that’s my reflection. Thank you to Jessica and Bob for inviting me to share it, and thanks to all of you for listening. Happy 2022.

[pause 00:10:24]

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Bob: We’re going to hear next from Sherrill Knezel. Sherrill is an art teacher and graphic recorder. She’s the founder of Meaningful Marks LLC, a graphic recording company. Sherrill collaborated with Jessica and me on our Connecting Communities in Asset-based Disaster Recovery project, which was part of the 2020/2021 Military Family Readiness Academy. Sherrill and another of our collaborators on that project, Brigitte Scott, joined us on our episode about warm collaboration.

Sherrill Knezel: Hello, everyone. My name is Sherrill Knezel. I am a graphic recorder, illustrator, and art educator. My feet touch the ground on unceded territory in the homeland of the Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk, and Menominee Peoples, also known as Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My favorite reflection question is actually two-pronged. It’s, what is one small moment of joy that you can recall this year, and it might be something that recurred over and over or just maybe one moment that you have in your memory? Then, what is one silver lining that you might have found tucked in an obstacle this year that you faced?

My answer to that two-pronged question is, for me, the joy has been the return to school for students, being able to use art materials and get messy because, during the height of the pandemic, we really were not able to have students share materials. We were using mostly pencils and paper. This year, watching my kindergarten through fifth graders, literally just be so uninhibited in discoveries with materials, in painting, and use of color has been a true joy over and over for me this year. A silver lining for me has continued to be my growing edge, I will call it, of learning digital and virtual graphic recording.

Before the pandemic, when I would listen and draw out conversations, it was mostly in large rooms with large paper and markers, and then it wasn’t. I quickly learned how to draw using digital tools, and that has really pushed my just expression digitally, but it has really opened more doors for connection and opportunities with people around the country and organizations around the country. That’s actually been a blessing as well. Thanks and happy new year, and happy holidays to everyone.

[pause 00:13:32]

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Bob: I guess it’s time for me to share my reflection question. This was a tough one. This is a reflection question that I have used in the past, but it’s one that was important this year, just because of how my year went. It was tailored or selected because of my experiences this year. The question is if you could travel back to a year ago, what would you tell yourself? If I could go back in time and talk to myself a year ago, I guess what I would say is just to put your self-care first. This year, I sacrificed a whole bunch of my self-care time and energy to a big project at work.

That really just caused a huge spiraling down effect where I didn’t have, I think the inner piece to deal with the stress of the work, and the project, and ended up beating myself up both for falling victim to the stress of the project and for saying, “You shouldn’t have abandoned your self-care practice. What’s your problem? This is why you can’t deal with the stress.” It was really a spiraling down effect, and you’re right, physician, heal thyself. We’ve spent two seasons of this podcast talking about all of the kind of things that could have made me more resilient in this process, but it’s just what happened.

I think that’s why I would like to go back and remind myself of that because by the time I was able to really, in a deep level, deal with that realization because I knew it. I knew. I was like, “You shouldn’t be doing this, get back to your practice,” but it was at a surface level where I could always dismiss it with, “Now, this is more important,” or, “I have to spend time on this,” or, “I have to do this part of the work first.” By the time that I was able to just tell myself, “Just start again, it’s okay to start over with your self-care practice,” I was really just too overwhelmed to listen.

Another thing that I regret about that is that all of this, the time sucked and everything, it isolated me from the people that are my support network. I was too busy. Too busy to do work on this side project, or too busy to have this conversation, or too busy to connect with this person. That was compounded by the fact– It’s interesting because a lot of our work, Jessica, you and I, in our work together, is built on all of the stuff that I had let go, and so there was this feeling of embarrassment in connecting with people where our connection was about this kind of work.

About self-care, and about reflection, and about resilience. Trying to show up and knowing that you had let your practice go was difficult. I would just tell myself, “Tend to your relationships, put your self-care first,” and remind myself that those relationships are important because I care about those people, obviously. Also, because they’re so important to my wellness and resilience. No matter, not to risk being immodest by saying that I’m any kind of expert in this, but these are things I’ve been thinking about and practices that we’ve been working on for years now.

You and I together, and with other collaborators. It’s a reminder that no matter how long you’ve been practicing, there are situations that if you don’t pay attention to it, can really eat away at that. Anyway, that’s my super depressing question as we go into the new year. I think it’s hopeful too, that I’ve gotten to the place where I can see it, and hopefully change it

Jessica: Being aware of that is the first step for real. I just want to take a moment to acknowledge just how normal it is for that to happen and to also even feel a little bit of embarrassment when people are maybe reaching out to you. I was just talking to a friend the other day about times when we’ve been feeling beyond stressed, like when we’re feeling burned out at work especially. That seems to be the place where a lot of the burnout comes from or stems from. Then we’ve got people checking in with us, some friends, parents.

They hadn’t heard from us for a while, and they’re checking in with us. It’s like adding to our stress level, and it feels worse. We don’t get back to them, and then they start to sometimes become what feels to us, it feels like it’s demanding, but really they’re caring for us. They’re worried about us, they’re getting in touch with us because they’re worried. We just can’t take one more thing, and that feels like one more thing. We talked about how we would love to just be able to tell them in some way, tell them at one point when we’re not feeling stressed, that this is happening and that if they could come up with some code word like platypus or something, where it encapsulates everything without you having to explain that, “I can’t right now.

I appreciate and love you, and I’m so glad, don’t stop checking in on me, and also, platypus. I just can’t take one more thing.” We were talking about that the other day, and I actually, to be honest, hearing you say this is really helpful. Until she and I had this talk, I felt like I had some weird thing wrong with me that when I’m stressed, and I’ve got these wonderful people checking in on me, and saying, “Hey, how are you doing? Can we get it together? I miss you. I’m worried about you. I haven’t heard from you in a while,” or my mom texting me similar things, that I end up just wanting to yell, “Leave me alone right now, please.

Please just leave me alone. I don’t have the capacity to get back to you even.” Until I had this conversation with my friend, I didn’t realize that I wasn’t alone in that. I thought maybe I was just a little weird. [laughs]

Bob: We’re both a little weird.

Jessica: Everyone is. Yes?

Bob: Everyone is a little weird, but no, I completely relate to that. I think that’s a task for us and maybe anyone who’s listening out there. If we want to want to come up with a word, feel free to reach out to us and let us know. Maybe we can share that with the network, at least in the network of people who listen to Practicing Connection. We will have a word that we can share amongst each other. That stands for all those lovely things that you said, which, “I love you. I care about you. Please keep checking on me, but can’t do it right now, so, platypus, everyone.”

Jessica: Yes. [laughs]

Bob: Let’s hear your reflection question, Jessica, if you would be willing to share it with us.

Jessica: Oh, of course, yes. I have been thinking about this a lot lately. Starting at the end of September, I came up with a new term. I called it Program Launch Season, which sounds super exciting, but I had a lot of programs launching, and I burned out pretty badly this fall a couple of times, to the point where, in a meeting, I was so burned out that I was a little bit even short with people, which isn’t like me. That doesn’t sound like a big consequence, but that’s a good explanation of how bad it is because it’s very unlike me to be like that.

It was with leadership in my organization. There were leadership in the room, and I was being short with leadership and so just unlike me. My question is, what has this year taught you about what boundaries you need to set for the coming year? In thinking about this, of course, I immediately went to work first because that’s where this fall, I really burned out. I ended up having this wonderful experience with a new-ish project. It actually started this summer, and in that project, there were four core team members that were trying to get the project going.

In the short period of time, since we started talking about the project and the project actually launched three of the four, so that would be, I was basically the only one left standing in this project. The train had left the station, the other three people, two left their positions and moved away, and the third one retired. There were other people who came in and took their place because new people started in those positions. I had felt like that entire project was on me. This new team comes in, and for a number of reasons, I kept all of the project work on myself. It was had nothing to do with lack of relationship or trust. It was really more lack of time to get them up to speed, lack of understanding about how they could contribute. Because I didn’t have the time to connect with them, it just was this snowball, and it just kept getting bigger and worse. I was missing some deadlines, for lack of a better word, because we didn’t really have deadlines but I was missing some things because I was taking on all the work. I was taking on all the work because that’s how the project had been set up, to begin with.

This team of ours came together one time, and they were asking me all kinds of questions, and that would have taken the project in a completely different direction. That’s great. I love that most of the time, but I had been told that this particular project really needed to stay on course because there were some delicate things involved and delicate relationship types of things. I then needed to relay to them why it was so important to stay on course. In the end, we ended up having this beautiful conversation about what we all needed from each other, which is typically a conversation I would want to do with a group that I first start working with anyway.

What we all needed from each other in order to be involved in the project, and in order for it to be a success. That was the first time, a long time, that I felt like I didn’t have to take on all of the project tasks. I think it’s partly how our roles have been set up. My organization is constantly telling us, “No, you can say no in lots of different ways. You can just tell people you don’t have time, or you can say that’s not your expertise, or you can say I can help you in six months.” I’ve tried all those things in the past. In general, it still ends up coming back to me.

Not only does it come back to me, but often, I’m the one that’s bearing a lot of the brunt of the work, and the groups I’ve been working with lately, haven’t been like that. The blame isn’t with the groups. I think I felt responsible for taking on all the work. I would just do it because the groups I’m working with are often very tiny nonprofits, or they’re volunteer committee members that are trying to also do this in their spare time, and here I am getting paid to do work like this. Anyway, it was my first experience in a while where everyone is like, “Hey.”

I told them that I was burned out, and they said, “What can we do?” We found out that we have lots of different strengths on the teams. We talked about all the different things we not only enjoy doing but we’re really good at doing. We started to spread things around a little bit, and I realized, “Oh wow, I can be a part of the process. I don’t have to be the whole process.” It’s funny because I know that logically, but I really do feel like up until more recently, I have felt responsible for taking on all this work because they’re paying me to be here to do this work.

The other people are volunteering to help, and I need to put in more. I need to pull my weight. It’s, I’m a public servant, I need to serve. I’m realizing that I can serve by playing to my strengths. I can understand the difference between saying, “I’m really good at this piece here, but we need all these other pieces done. Who can do those?” I don’t have to do those. That’s what the last year has taught me is that I cannot take on the work of a project. I don’t have to speak up and volunteer all the time. That’s setting a boundary just as much as saying flat out no to a project is.

The difference between the two, there isn’t a huge difference between the two, but there’s a difference in framing, which I think helps because I have a hard time saying no, to begin with. Framing it as, “I’m really good at this piece, and I know that I can deliver here, so let’s play to that. Sometimes I can do these other pieces, but I can’t do them all the time. Let’s find people for that.” That’s the big thing for work that I need to do. Because I was so burned out then, I was not also taking care of my social needs, my family needs, my self-care needs as well as I could have. Now, I was doing some things for sure. I didn’t stop all my practices.

I did a lot more journaling, which I love to do. I did a lot more meditation, which is incredibly helpful for me, mindfulness, meditation. We have a puppy, and so I’ve done more walks. There’s more exercise, in a way, going on. I’m not doing hardcore exercise, I’m just walking an eight-month-old puppy, but boy, does he go fast. I can say that. I didn’t let go of everything, but, in particular, my social needs suffered this year. Of course, we’re all staying away from each other right now. That’s where I landed there. I feel really good about moving forward and acknowledging some of that know yourself stuff like we talked about in the last two episodes.

That I’m really good at certain things. Other things I’m not good at, and it’s okay that I’m not good at them. I also don’t have to do them. I can go in to work with a group and I can say, “We need people, we need volunteers from the group to do some of these other things so that I can do my thing really, really well for you, and serve you in the best way possible.” That’s where I landed on that.

Bob: Thanks so much for sharing that. I can definitely relate. Obviously, we have people listening who can probably see that there’s some similar themes happening on completely different– These are not projects we were working together on that we’re talking about here. These were completely separate projects from this one.

Jessica: Oh yes, totally. Yes. Mine was a collection of a bunch of projects. I think Bob’s was mostly one huge project, right?

Bob: Yes, in our separate work, not in our collaborative work. It’s interesting that that’s the way the year fell for us. I’d be curious if maybe a lot of people maybe had that after this pop of wondering about the pandemic year, and maybe what in the workplace, we felt like we let go of, or didn’t get to because of the disruption of the pandemic year. That I wonder if 2021, if people had similar experiences of having to jump in both feet into certain things because of just the expectations or projects left undone in 2020. Some things like that, that maybe it’s not just a coincidence that you and I had some similar experiences with work projects.

I do want to say, I think that was so important, the boundaries that you were talking about. I think it’s difficult, especially with what we might consider small tasks. There are no small tasks, but you focus on the task, like, “This is where my expertise, or my talent, or my interest can be of most use.” But sometimes when you are leading, co-leading a project, there’s all the little things that maybe nobody wants to pick up. Like, “Could you write that?” or, “We need a little piece for this,” or, “We need a little piece for that.” That sometimes I think as people who might be co-leading a particular project, we take on–

Oh, I’ll say it this way. I find myself taking on a lot of that stuff, and that can also contribute to the overwhelm. Even if you are sharing the load like you talked about, sometimes it’s just the little details that get piled on. Don’t say piled on, that we take on as leaders or co-leaders because we feel like we have to, to just keep things moving forward.

Jessica: Yes. I do that too, and there’s something that I’ve started to do that is really helpful. I’ve started to communicate the capacity or the lack of capacity that I have to the people I’m working with. I’ll say, “I’m very willing to take that piece on, but just know that with my capacity the way it is, it’s going to be last-minute sliding into the 11th hour.” That’s a mix of a baseball metaphor.

Bob: Lots of metaphors happening there.

Jessica: [laughs] Sliding home at the 11th hour. There we go. That’s probably a better way to put it, but it’s going to be. it will be done, and also, it’s going to be under certain parameters. Like, I’m going to do what I can with the capacity that I have. Honestly, I have noticed that people may be in similar situations, and a lot of times, people just nod their head. They’re like, “We get it. Just do what you can even if you have to cut it short, or you even if you have to modify it differently.” Then sometimes, at that point, someone is like, “You know what?

I think I can do that, or I can work together with you.” That’s what I have been noticing lately too, is people are like, “I can work with you on that. and the two of us together can knock it out much faster.” I love seeing that stuff happen, and I do think a lot of us are in the same boat. The more that we’re able to communicate about our boats and about the boats that we’re in, I think we might see maybe I won’t feel like I need to set boundaries so hard because I’m communicating with everyone where I’m at. People might step up to help out sometimes even.

Bob: Thanks for sharing that. I hope everyone listening, that some of these questions that you heard in today’s episode, you might find useful for yourself. I hope that whatever questions you’re asking yourself, you take some time to reflect as we go into a new year together. Just speaking for myself from this short conversation in this episode, it’s super helpful if you have a chance to have a buddy to talk through these things with. Thank you. Thanks, Jessica. I appreciate you. Thank you for a great year of the podcast, and working together, and our friendship over the last years has been great.

Not over, by the way. We made it sound like, “Great friendship, Jessica. Have a nice life.” No, no. I just.

Jessica: Thanks a lot to you too. No, I’m kidding.

Bob: Despite the struggles that I shared, you were huge in keeping me happy and healthy as I could be in that situation, so, thank you.

Jessica: Aww, you’re very welcome. I’m so glad to hear that because we haven’t been able to connect quite as often as we used to. I’m hoping that 2022, that will change a little. I just tried to be positive and keep us going. I really appreciate hearing that and thank you so much too. I told you one of my needs this year that I didn’t take as good care of was social, and so I consider any little bit of time that we get to just share a little bit with some of our friends, including some of our conversations and just have a little bit of laughter, a little bit of connection on a different level, rather than meetings with people, is just wonderful.

I’ve actually started, in some of my meetings. I just allow some of the banter to happen at the beginning. I don’t worry about getting the meeting started as quickly. I’m sure that makes some people mad, but that’s okay. That’s great.

Bob: It’s all right. We need it.

Jessica: Yes, and thanks. This is fun to think through these questions every year with you.

Bob: We’d also like to thank our guests, all of our guests this past year. It’s been a beautiful experience to talk with all of them. I’m so thankful for their sharing their ideas and insights with us, especially today, to our guests who shared their reflection questions for the year. Thanks also to our team for the podcast, Kalin Goble, our announcer. Nathan Grimm, who composed and performed all the music that you hear on the podcast. Hannah Hyde and Terry Meisenbach for their help with promotions and marketing. Thanks to our Military Families Learning Network team.

There’s a whole team of people who are working to provide professional development to the folks who provide helping services to our military families. They are the Military Families Learning Network, and we appreciate all of their hard work and appreciate being their colleagues. Thanks, team, for everything that you’ve done this year. Finally, thanks to you for listening. This has been Season 2 of the Practicing Connection in a Complex World podcast. Thank you so much and keep practicing.

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